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Monday, 31 January 2011

GETTING THE FREEDOM MESSAGE OUT

I wrote last week about how social network sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, played a big role in supporting the Tunisian uprising. Since then social networking-supported protests have spread to other Arab nations, including Egypt and the Yemen.


After my post was published I received some emails asking if I could give some practical tips on how to get the message out to mainstream media using social networking.


Happy to oblige. Here is a ‘four-step’ guide. In my original post I was writing about how social networking could be used during an uprising. Of course, you don’t have to wait for the spark that ignites the revolt in Swaziland; you can get your own messages out before that happens and, who knows, maybe hasten the spark along a little.


STEP ONE: SET UP ACCOUNTS


If you haven’t already got them, set up social network accounts. Do this now; don’t wait for the crisis to start. Learn how to upload to the sites and how to communicate with others from your sites.


There are a number of social network sites. These are the most popular and are the ones that journalists search when they are looking for information.


Facebook http://www.facebook.com/

Twitter http://twitter.com/

Flickr http://www.flickr.com/

Blogs. There are many different sites where you can set up a blog. Personally, I have found the Google ‘blogger’ to be easy to use and efficient. http://www.blogger.com


STEP TWO: COLLECT YOUR MATERIAL


There are three types of material that journalists will want: video, photographs and words (text). Television is the best way of getting the message out and this means you should try to get video material whenever possible. If that’s not available, photographs are the next best thing. You will need also to write a short piece to explain what the video and / or pictures show.


To do this you need a certain amount of equipment. Small handheld video cameras are excellent for this. If you don’t already have this, check around with people you know to see if they have one you can use.


Most digital cameras that take still photographs have a feature that allows you to shoot some moving images.


Lastly, some cell (mobile) phones allow you to take photos and video. The technical quality of these is usually quite poor (especially when broadcast over television). Only use these as a last resort.


Remember you are trying to interest journalists in your cause and the best way to do this is to make it as easy as possible for the journalists to understand what it is you want to say. So, edit your material savagely. That means if you have been on a protest march and have 20 minutes of video, don’t upload all 20 minutes. Take from it the most dramatic images that you have, for example, something to show how big the demonstration was and add to this some ‘action’ – police brutality, tear gas and rubber bullets are better than people standing on a stage making speeches.


STEP THREE: UPLOAD YOUR MATERIAL


You need an Internet connection that is fast enough to enable you to get online and upload video and pictures. In Swaziland, in normal circumstances, the Internet connection can be very slow and this can make uploading difficult. My own experience of this in Swaziland is that it is easier to upload during the night time (when fewer people elsewhere are trying to get on the Internet). This problem of Internet speed is another reason why you should keep your video as short and to the point as possible.


There are some places in Swaziland that have their own satellite Internet provision. They have it because they need to have fast access to the Internet for their own business etc.


Find out where such Internet connections exist and see whether it is possible to use them. If there is a major civil unrest, one possible source of Internet access will be foreign embassies in Swaziland. If the Swazi regime is about to be toppled (or has been toppled) foreign nations might be willing to allow access to their facilities. Of course, not all foreign embassies will be on the side of the people. I suspect the Americans will be a better bet than the Kuwaitis.


A possible alternative might be to take your material across the border to South Africa, but in a major crisis this might not be possible (if, for example, the borders are closed).


The present ruling regime in Swaziland might try to block access to your Internet sites. We have seen in the past that the PUDEMO site has been closed to access from within Swaziland.


It is not possible for the Swazi Government to block access from outside the kingdom. To ensure that you are able to access your Internet sites from within Swaziland set up a proxy server. A proxy server is simply a server in one country that you can access from another. Using a proxy server allows you to bypass censorship.


To set up a proxy server input ‘proxy server’ into any Internet search engine (e.g. Google) and you will be taken to dozens of different sites that offer the service. Some are free of charge (but I am told these tend to be less efficient than ones you pay a fee for). Personally, I have servers in nine different countries (catch me if you can ...).


STEP FOUR: GET NOTICED


Once you have your material online you need to tell journalists that it is there. If journalists already know there is an uprising in Swaziland they will search social network sites to see if anyone is putting material up. This can be a bit ‘hit and miss’ so to save them the bother and to make sure they find your material you should contact them directly.


In order of priority go for the television stations first; then the news agencies and finally individual newspapers.


The world’s most visible TV stations go out of their way to ask people to alert them to news stories and materials. These are the three biggest international TV news organisations. Email them with brief details of what you have and give them the internet address (URL) where you have uploaded the material.


BBC yourpics@bbc.co.uk.

CNN http://www.cnn.com/feedback/tips/newstips.html or ireport@cnn.com.

Al Jazeera www.english.aljazeera.net


After contacting the TV stations go for the international news agencies. These agencies want video, photographs and words. Put your message in the body of the email, do not send attachments.


The biggest international news agencies are:

Associated Press info@ap.org.

Reuter pics@reuters.com

Agence France Presse (AFP) afpjoburg@afp.com


Democracy activists will already probably have contacts in the media in southern Africa, but if you are searching for newspapers elsewhere go to http://www.world-newspapers.com/ for lists and websites.


You might like to consider setting up your own online ‘news room’. This is technically simple to do. All you need is to set up one Internet site and get all the people you know who are out videoing and photographing to send a copy of their material to that site (the online news room) – as well as sending it to their own site.


The advantage of the online newsroom is that it acts as a ‘one-stop shop’ for journalists. Once they know that it exists and that it is efficiently collecting material about the crisis, it will be their first port of call when seeking updates on the situation.


Setting up a news room will require cooperation between all the pro-democracy groups and activists. It will need to be fast and efficient and cannot be hindered by political in-fighting and petty bureaucracy.


If the online newsroom proves difficult to organize, you can send material to the already-existing website Swazi Media Commentary (www.swazimedia.blogspot.com). This site has been in operation for nearly four years and is already widely read by (among others) journalists all over the world.


Remember, that the object is to get the pro-democracy message out far and wide, by using conventional media outlets. This means you must be aware what it is that this media want and how to give it to them.


When you post video or pictures up to the Internet also put up a short explanation of what they show – where they were taken, when it happened and what the demonstration etc. they show was about.


If you have no video or pictures, and you want to send a report as text, that’s OK, but this has less chance of getting publicised than the video and pictures.


Whatever the reason for your writing, remember to think like a journalist. Keep what you have to say short and simple. Give information about what is happening and not rhetoric (keep the exhortations to overthrow the system for the political rallies). Be calm in your tone. Write in ‘proper’ English and not SMS-speak.


Give the journalists as many different ways of contacting you as possible if they have questions. This could include information about email address, Facebook sites etc, as well as cell phone numbers.

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